Saturday, September 25, 2010

Couponing 101 - Are coupons the only way to save?

Couponing 101 - Are coupons the only way to save?
Yes, I'm Coupon Mama Massachusetts, but that doesn't mean I ONLY limit myself to saving using coupons. In fact, coupons are just one tiny part of the whole saving process! So how can you save and reduce your family's monthly budget?



Grocery Coupons - Most grocery coupons (food, cleaning products, clothing, products you find a store, etc.) can be clipped from coupon inserts. Others can be found on the internet and printed. To redeem these coupons, they are given to the cashier when you checkout. Most coupons have a scannable barcode that gets scanned at the register. However, some simply have a numerical or alphabetical code that the cashier manually types into the register at checkout.

When using grocery coupons it is important to be aware of some things:
  • expiration dates - most stores will NOT accept expired coupons
  • number of items required to redeem coupon - if the coupon states $1/2, then you need to buy 2 items to use the coupon
  • size restrictions - some coupons will specify a size restriction (12 oz. or greater, excluding 2.5 oz pkg, etc.) and while some stores don't pay attention to these restrictions, you could end up trying to use a coupon on the wrong size item and having to either pay full price or putting the item back
  • coupon limit - rarely, but it sometimes happens, coupons will state "one coupon per customer"
  • store specific coupons - if the coupon has the Target logo or the Lowes logo on it, most other stores will not accept the coupon - it must be redeemed at the store shown on the logo
  • printable vs. not-printable - some stores and other establishments will not accept ANY printable coupons or have certain restrictions on the types of printable coupons they'll accept; be aware of your store's coupon policy
  
Online Coupon Links - Some discounts are meant to be redeemed solely online. If you are a AAA member, you can get amazing discounts at a variety of online stores, such as Target. To cash in on these discounts, you must click on a link found on the AAA member website. The same can be said of some online discounts that are emailed to you - you may have received an email for 25% off Payless Shoesource, but to activate the discount you must click on the link in your email to be taken to the specific page where the item is found.

  
Online Coupon Codes
Online coupon codes and promo codes are another convenient method for saving tons of money. They are usually a combination of letters and numbers that are linked to a particular discount. After adding your merchandise to your online shopping card and checking out, you apply the promo code by typing in the letter-number combination (ex. SPORK25) in the "promo code" area on the checkout page and the discount is usually automatically applied. It's really important to pay attention to all of the conditions of promo codes - if the correct merchandise is not in your shopping cart or you have not reached a specified minimum for your order, the promo code will not work.



Rebates - Rebates usually take a little more work and elbow grease then the typical coupon or online discount. A rebate typically requires that a certain number or price-value of items be purchased in a specified amount of time. In most cases, for a mail-in-rebate (MIR), you mail in the completed rebate form, the UPC codes from the purchased items and the original receipt with the items/prices circled.  In return, you will receive money back (check or gift card form), a coupon booklet or whatever other rebate payment form is advertised on the rebate form.

Some types of rebates can be applied for online, such as the Staples Easy Rebates. In any regard, it is important to carefully follow all steps outlined in the rebate form. Rebate forms that are not filled out entirely or that don't contain the appropriate documents are ignored - you don't get your receipts or UPCs back.

Expect to wait 4-6 weeks to receive whatever bounty was offered in the rebate form.


Cash Back
Some companies online offer cash back simply for shopping through their website. In a way, these offers are similar to rebates - if you purchase a certain item, you'll receive a certain amount of cash back. I use EBates all the time - in fact, when I pair it with Restaurant.com offers, I end up getting 20% of what I spend back. EBates will mail you a check or deposit into your Paypal account every quarter if you've earned at least $5.

Like with other deals and discounts, it's important to read all of the terms and conditions that go along with cash back offers. In some cases you can combine the cash back offers with other discounts, coupon codes and promotions. In other cases, if you cash in on those other promotions, you will not get the cash back.
  
Rewards Programs - You may have heard of Frequent Flyer Miles - this is one type of reward program that can help you stretch your dollar. In the case of rewards programs, stores reward the consumer for buying certain products with points that can accrue and then be redeemed for something else - free items, gift cards, money off another purchase, etc.

My husband is constantly taking business trips so he's enrolled in the Hilton's HHonors program to collect points for free hotel stays when we go on vacation.

I've enrolled in Swagbucks, which is simply a search engine. Everytime you search using Swagbucks, you have the chance of earning "Swagbucks" or points that can later be redeemed for some awesome rewards like Target or Amazon gift cards. So far I've earned myself 1 $20 Target e-card and nearly $100 worth of Amazon e-cards!
Some other common rewards programs include: 

Retail Store Loyalty Programs
Staples Rewards
Kohls' Yes2You Rewards
Best Buy Rewards
Home Depot's Pro Xtra
Macy's Plenti Rewards
Saver's Super Saver Club
Sears/Kmart ShopYourWay

Grocery & Drug Store Loyalty Programs
CVS ExtraCareBucks
Rite Aid's Wellness+ with Plenti
Walgreen's Balance Rewards
Stop&Shop's Gas Points
Big Y Savings Club
BiLo Bonus Card
Food Lion's MVP Program
Price Chopper's AdvantEdge
Shaws' MyMixx
Weis Shopper's Club Card
Winn Dixie's Customer Rewards Card
Wegman's Shopper's Club Card

Restaurant Loyalty Programs
Dunkin Donuts' DDPerks
Starbucks Rewards
Orange Leaf's Ounce Back Card
TGI Friday's Stripes
Chili's Rewards
Subway Rewards
My Panera
D'Angelo's/Papa Gino's Rewards

Happy Couponing!
-Coupon Mama
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